Music By Heart, With Heart

 Discover strategies for memorizing music and breaking ones fear of this process. We will discuss how to handle memory slips in performance, the advantages to liberating ourselves from the score, and methods of using memory even when the music is in front of us

It has an old-fashioned, almost childlike ring to it.  “I can play my song by heart!”  It conveys a sense of ownership (“my song”), a feeling of integration with the music, and liberation from the tyranny of dots and stems, lines and clefs, and those awkward page-turns.  Now there is the freedom to play anywhere there is an instrument, and hopefully to play with heart as well as by heart.

Knowing a piece of music this way seems to happen to you; it is a pleasant accident realized after time and reflection.  After all, our brains are designed to gather and retain information through the portals of our senses.  On the other hand, memorization is something you actively do, engaging your knowledge, analysis, and various strategies. 

Some helpful steps include the following:

  1. Listen to your music first.  Music is an art of sound, and the more familiar you are with the piece beforehand, the sooner you will learn it.
  2. Look over the score and divide the piece into manageable sections.  Note places that repeat or are similar.
  3. Create a timetable for learning the piece.  Keeping the process going will inspire you as you get closer to the goal.  Note: the beginning is not always the best place to start!
  4. Learn your left hand first!  Every building starts from the basement!  This will give you tremendous security later.
  5. Be patient and maintain a positive attitude. Memorization takes time.  Playing from memory does not equal playing by heart.  But if you apply a systematic method to learning from memory, you will eventually achieve that wonderful feeling of synthesis when the music flows from you naturally.  It is worth all the hard work!

One major pitfall: “I’ll keep the score in front of me, just in case.”

Memory slips in performance: “—it happens!”

The role of music theory: “What is that chord?”

Retention and review: “I played this before—why can’t I remember it?”

What is the greatest benefit to your memorization skills (aside from getting adequate sleep)?

Alexandra Eames

Since her New York debut at Merkin Concert Hall, Alexandra Eames has enjoyed an active career as a pianist.  Her recent appearances include the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series in Chicago, the Aspen Music Festival Composers Symposium, the Kosciuszko Foundation and the Leschetizky Association Artist Series in New York City.  Her CDs of Chopin and Schubert have been broadcast on WQXR’s Reflections from the Keyboard, hosted by David Dubal.  In addition, Ms. Eames participated in the live broadcast of an all-Chopin Marathon at The Greene Space on WQXR.

A dedicated and experienced teacher, Ms. Eames serves on the piano faculty of the Mannes College Preparatory Division.  She has been a visiting artist playing recitals and giving masterclasses at Barrie University in Miami, the University of Nebraska, Andrews University in Michigan, and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She was a co-founder of the Delmarva Piano Festival, and is currently Artistic Director of Performers Lab, where musicians explore many facets of the performance process.

Alexandra Eames is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School.  She continues to reside in New York with her husband, son, and guide dog, Koda.